Conference and archives over Easter

By Charlotte Stevens on May 4th, 2023

Over the Easter break, I attended the PCA national conference in San Antonio, TX. Following the conference, I then spent a few days looking through special collections at different campuses at the University of Maryland. It was a complicated and busy way to spend a couple weeks – compounded by airline delays and minor chaos – but thankfully was a worthwhile trip.

The conference was interesting, and it was my second time attending after a gap of (horrifyingly!) 12 years. It’s a world of difference attending as a first-year PhD student than as someone who is now on the other side of things – and was presenting a paper with someone whose PhD project I’m supervising. After many pandemic years of smaller online conferences, it was a bit of a shock to be back at a giant American conference, with 20+ sessions happening simultaneously throughout the four days, and scores of subject areas that each program their own tracks. In some ways it is like being at many different conferences happening on top of each other. It can be overwhelming, but it also lovely to be able to hop between Fandom Studies, Game Studies, Asian Popular Culture, and other subjects/disciplines as the mood struck.

Our panel was plagued with the same issue that cropped up at nearly every panel I attended: after so many years away from meeting in-person, fitting four papers and questions into 90-minute time slots was a challenge when all the speakers have a lot to say. Still, as a whole, the size and scope (and inclusivity) in the conference programming means that it brings together senior academics with MA and PhD students, as well as a few select undergraduate students who shared work in their own track. At the very least, pulling together a conference presentation was very valuable in helping to refine our argument for the (still in progress) book chapter that we’re writing about vampires in Korean music videos.

Following the conference I flew cross-country to check out a couple of DC-area university special collections which hold fanzines: one of punk zines, and one of science fiction APA zines. Previously I have looked at media fandom fanzines, and the good news is that the two archives I visited on this trip broadly confirmed that they weren’t going to be gold mines for what I’m working on in relation to capturing discussion about television from that time period. However, I still need to work through all the photographs I took, and revisit my broader plan for this project to properly plan out the next steps.

There were a couple useful things I read in the collections, though, and in my experience it’s never a waste of time to look into an archive since the absences are worth at least a few paragraphs. For example: punks in the 80s were extremely anti-TV, as were hardcore ‘literary’ science fiction fans in the same period, but for different (yet overlapping) reasons. Punk culture is anti-capitalist, and tended to look at mass culture and television’s dominance in that sphere as antithetical to a punk worldview. Conversely, science fiction on television tends to be written off by ‘literary’ science fiction fans in derisive terms, calling out poor writing, acting, and special effects. There were a few compelling exceptions: for example, a punk zine written by teens in the 80s that celebrated 60s/70s American television (likely accessible through reruns; videotape or time-shifting is not mentioned), and a retirement-age science fiction fan produced a 16-page essay in 1984 detailing his three years of Betamax ownership. Both were fascinating collections on their own, even if slightly out of scope!